Tom Harris, the sacked Christian teacher, violence and bullying
December 21, 2009 2 Comments
There is a most apt illustration of what violence means to Slavoj Zizek in recent news, regarding the supply teacher who was sacked after telling as child that she’d pray for them to resume health. First, a reminder of Zizek’s thesis on violence:
Early in 2008, philosopher Slavoj Žižek published a book entitled Violence: Six Sideways Reflections in which he aims to describe the differences between the violence we might see on the news in the form of thuggery and the violence incurred by the workings of the rogue bankers tweaking the economy. The difference, for Žižek, is the difference between “subjective” and “objective” violence. That is to say, “subjective” violence is the perceptibly obvious violence seen on the streets in the form of “crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict” whereas “objective” violence is the unseen form of violence that takes the form of either the “symbolic” (bound in language and its forms), or the “systemic” (the catastrophic consequences of our economy when it is functioning as normal). The very notion that this objective violence is unseen sustains the level with which we perceive something as subjectively violent.
Bearing in mind the campaign used by Dawkins et al to assert that to call a child religious is akin to labelling a child Marxist or existentialist, thus linked to abuse, Bullying UK CEO John Carnell said of the matter:
Bullying is completely the wrong word to use here, it certainly isn’t that. We get thousands of emails a year from children who are being viciously attacked at school, cyber bullied and who are also being harassed in the community. That’s bullying.
It’s clear. The benchmark Carnell is using here to perceive violence has been obfuscated by the perceptibly obvious violence, he has forgotten the level of violence at a symbolic level – the violence of words. In this instance however, the supply teacher was trying to do good, but his appeal to prayer was not sensitive the child – namely that the power of prayer is illusory.
Tom Harris MP yesterday scorned left wing bloggers for not sticking up for the poor man: “Why must we allow the right wing to claim that white, middle class Christians are the only minority group in the country that the Left don’t give a damn about?” (it was a wrong accusation he later found out) True in one sense, that people should not be vilified for what they believe, and though there should never be any pretence that prayer can safeguard health, the teacher’s intentions were not vicious (and during the investigation of course intention should be considered). But this mattered less to me, than a comment Tom Harris had made in reply in the comments thread to someone who had said:
“Would it be bullying for an atheist nurse to explain to a Christian child that there is no God, and there are no miracles?”
It would certainly be very crass and insensitive. Perhaps you would think it okay to tell a young child that there’s no Santa Claus?
Theoretically, for matters of certainty, nobody should say for certain what is and is not up there and sensitivity should be bestowed upon children who are currently information processing for themselves as best they can, but what seems to be the case with Harris is that illusion is ok. If he’d had left it with where he stood on the prayer issue, we could simply say he was a Christian promoting values he feels are Christian, but why does he then say it is insensitive to say there is no Santa. Unless he believes in Santa himself (which I’m sure he doesn’t) then this can only be because he thinks illusion is necessary – and it is not controversial, is this not why the myth of Santa persists, so as to promote sapience to children through illusion. Though, further, he illustrates Santa during a debate on the God question, therefore it is hard not to interpret this as Harris saying illusion of whatever stripe (Christian, Christmas etc) serves a positive purpose. What worries me initially is where this ends? At what point do we stop appealing to illusion with kids, when can it harm them? Perhaps Harris can inform us of the wider philosophical elements of his claim, and his likening of Christmas illusion to Christian illusion. I’ll wait for that, but in the meantime here’s a picture of a snowman: